by Jenny Watkins
My biggest claim to fame might be that I actually know Darby and Erika. Yes, the Darby and Erika on practically everyone’s Pinterest boards and Instagram feeds: the identical twins who graduated from Auburn University in 2002 before founding the renowned businesses Honey Bee Tees (honeybeetees.com) and Urban Grace Interiors (urbangrace.com). Darby McPherson Stickler and Erika McPherson Powell are quite the dynamic duo and have gained an incredible following nationwide, inspiring the masses with creativity and authenticity.
Erika graduated cum laude with an interior design degree and a minor in international studies and business before completing further training in New York. She then moved to Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., where she still resides with her husband Chance Powell and two young daughters Sloane and Whitney.
When Erika first arrived to her new town she quickly noticed that new development was plentiful, but complementary design firms were lacking. As a response to that need, Erika founded a full-service design firm in 2005, Urban Grace Interiors, a company that would get involved with a project from the beginning when it was still a vision and see it through to completion. Erika’s concept has since exploded, and her clients are crazy about her hands-on design approach. “It used to be just me alone in a home office,” she says. “Now I have five employees and a lot more projects.” She’s currently working with an architect on plans for a new design studio and warehouse to accommodate the firm’s growing number of projects.
Several years ago Darby inspired Erika to start a blog, which has added a different dimension to her business and helped widen her client base. “Darby was blogging for about a year before I started,” she says. “I loved reading her blog and figured I should take a stab at it too. I think for my business it helped potential clients get a more personal glimpse at who I am. Designing someone’s home is very personal, and if they have an opportunity to get to know you via the blog prior to interviewing you, there’s a certain degree of comfort there before even starting.” Erika’s blog has been featured in the San Francisco Chronicle and also included in the Washington Post’s Top 10 Design Blogs in 2010. Also, her projects, which have ranged from one-room makeovers to designing the Coastal Living Ultimate Beach House in 2012, have also been featured in publications like Coastal Living, Southern Living and Traditional Home.
Darby’s entrepreneurial venture Honey Bee Tees actually began with her own celebrated blog flythroughourwindow.com, a platform she initially established seven years ago to share yummy recipes, photography tips, crafts and her adventures of raising young children. Her readership grew rapidly (reaching about 12,000 followers) so when Darby finally decided to establish her online children’s t-shirt business (a dream she’d been scheming of for years), she already had a large potential-customer base.
“As a mother to three young children (Morgan, Paige and John Martin), I often found myself discontented with the t-shirt options that retailers offered—busy, loud and sometimes inappropriate. I saw the demand for children’s t-shirts that were comfortable, timeless and simple; something that both child and parent would love.”
Darby launched Honey Bee Tees in August 2010 with the release of her first five t-shirt designs. Each design was hand-drawn and hand-screened, and the shirts were (and still are!) constructed with the highest quality cotton. “For the first several years I drew the majority of the designs,” says Darby. “As the business has grown I found myself spread so thin that I wasn’t able to handle every aspect of it and keep it running smoothly. I now have two graphic designers who work with me to achieve what has always been my goal: simple designs that are all in keeping with one another.”
Honey Bee Tees now offers more than 100 different items including t-shirts, hats, sweatshirts, aprons, tote bags and koozies. And since her business has grown so rapidly (she shipped approximately 8,000 items last year), Darby has placed her blog on the backburner for now. “I always say that I will pick it back up one day, dust it off, so to speak, but I’m not sure when that will be,” she says. “For now Instagram has filled the role of blog for me, and it’s much less time consuming.”
Like Erika, Darby’s plate is full running her business and balancing time with her husband Justin and their family. When asked what their secret is for how they do it all – juggling busy careers with family, friendships, hobbies and life in general – they both chuckle.
“I wish I knew,” jokes Erika. “My health is deteriorating, my hair is gray, and I feel like I live in a constant state of panic trying to get caught up at work.”
Darby adds, “If Erika says her health is deteriorating, you can say my teeth are deteriorating–probably from all the coffee I drink trying to balance work and family.”
Joking aside, Erika admits, “Balance is different for everyone. I think for me, it helps when I set boundaries. I have been learning the hard way that you can’t say yes to everything, especially at work. I think turning down projects and sticking to set days off has helped me.”
The twins attribute much of their success to their entrepreneurial parents and to each other. “We were raised by two very hard-working parents,” says Erika. “They never stopped working.
Also I don’t know anything different than being raised alongside Darby, who always has my back, and is brutally honest.”
Darby agrees, “We most definitely talk every day, and while it’s hard for each other to answer technical questions about each other’s work, we certainly depend on each other for more general advice–usually by way of texting each other a screen shot with a thumbs up or a thumbs down.”
The twins know they will always have each other’s support, and that is enough to help anyone succeed. “Erika is always there for me, both in life and in business,” says Darby. “I know that she is super busy, often being pulled 10 different directions, but always finds the time to encourage, support or answer my questions. Erika was the first to walk the road of starting a new business; she’s the seasoned business woman between the two of us and was, and continues to be, a reliable and valuable resource to me.”